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Protests in Bahrain and Its Effects Essay

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2020

Introduction

Bahrain is a small island nation in the Persian Gulf, officially known as the Kingdom of Bahrain. Like many countries in the Middle East, this island nation is known for its oil resources, pearls and dominant financial and heritage structures. The country has also been on of the faces of the Arab spring that has toppled various tyrannical governments across the Middle East. Precisely, the government of Bahrain has faced serious demonstrations since 2011 from protesters demanding removal of the country’s long serving prime minister and various other reforms from the ruling monarch. The latest face of the Bahrain uprising was the demonstration against the staging of Formula One, a premier sporting event that the country uses to showcase itself as a united nation with sustained social, civil and political harmony.

Protesters in Bahrain are mainly minority Shiias agitating for civil freedoms and equality in all levels of the Bahraini society. The Bahraini protests are inspired by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in overthrowing the countries’ autocratic regimes (Manhire 56). Though the Bahraini monarch is not explicitly threatened, analysts agree that the protests outcomes will have far-reaching effects beyond the country’s borders. Additionally, some scholars argue that the protests in Bahrain can be seen through the various schools of though especially Marxism and liberalism. In this paper, the focus will be on the likely effects of the protests on the larger Gulf and Middle East countries. As mentioned, there will be emphasis on the aspects of one of the schools of thought regarding the protests and their effects in the Gulf and the larger Middle East.

Bahrain uprising 2011-2012

The protests in Bahrain were initially about political freedom and respect for human rights. However, a raid by police on the otherwise peaceful demonstrators on 17th February 2011 led to the call by Shiia clerics leading the demonstrations for the overthrow of the monarch. It is important to note that the monarch that is leading Bahrain is from the Sunni minority, a similar ethnicity that also rules neighboring Saudi Arabia (Dabashi 78). Perhaps fearing a spread of the Shiia-led Protests to its kingdom, Saudi Arabia began taking an active role in the Bahraini protests. Saudi troops with the authority of the country’s crown prince entered the kingdom and forcefully suppressed the demonstrations.. Besides, Bahrain and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are mulling a proposal to form a loose political union that may later be transformed to a federation. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain however seem to be more committed in realizing the political union compared to other GCC countries, perhaps due to the perceived threat of shiia majority rebellion to their establishments.

Bahrain Protests in Marxism perspective

Both capitalist/liberal schools of thought can be used to explain the protests in Bahrain. A careful study of either of them can draw similarities between the situation on the ground and the envisaged situation according to the two schools of thought.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left liberalism/capitalism as the dominant economic system in the world. With it developed two classes of people; those with resources and those without. More often than not, the people with resources and wealth are associated with power and authorities. Technically therefore, the wealth forms the ruling class while the masses with no wealth are ordinary people. Apart from United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait whose leadership spend a significant portion of the oil wealth on their people, the rest of the countries including Bahrain have a big chunk of their citizens living on abject poverty, according to Middle East standards. This is compounded by the fact that this class division and induced economic marginalization takes place along ethnic lines.

Additionally, the ruling class, perceived to be the minority ethnically has deliberately kept the majority in an economically helpless situation effectively fueling resentment. It is the above situation that has convinced scholars that the protests in Bahrain have everything to do with class struggle and desire to change the ruling and economic system. There is an overwhelming feeling among the Shiia majority that the ruling Sunni minority has suppressed them for generations and that the time is ripe for change. This therefore introduces the Marxist perspective that captures the situation in Bahrain and its likely effects in the Middle East especially in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

According to Aloysius, Marxism advances the view that society is controlled by the few people who have resources and power who in turn pay very little to acquire services of the majority in order to make extra wealth they refer to as profit (123). According to Karl Marx’s theory, continuous domination and marginalization breeds resentment and anger among the neglected. Cumulatively, this anger builds and leads to protests which may give birth to political and social revolutions. The effects of such revolutions according to Karl Marx are far-reaching. Normally, the entire political and social systems are completely changed and a new order comes into place. Normally, the leaders of the new order may follow the ideals of the revolution before power and wealth corrupts them setting the stage for the formation of a new revolution cycle. It is important to note that this process takes a long time and protests like the ones experienced in Bahrain are the beginning of the end of the cycle.

Effects of protests through Marxist Perspective

The situation Bahrain is representative of many situations in the gulf countries where discontent about the ruling political class is growing. The Marxist-related consequences in Bahrain tackled here therefore should act as a mirror of the effects of the wider gulf countries in case the protests continue or achieve their objectives.

According to Dabashi, the protesters in Bahrain have been issuing demands like those experienced in Egypt and other Arab countries during the Arab Spring (28). However, the real motivation behind the protests is the deep sectarian division among the ethic groups forming the population of the country. Before an analysis on the protests is carried out, it is important to acknowledge that the protests in Bahrain are as a result of the domino effect originating from the Arab spring elsewhere, outside Bahrain. Certainly, the protesters were inspired by other successful revolts in Egypt and Tunisia as well as hidden support by other regimes in the Middle East such as Iran and Iraq.

In analyzing the effects of the uprising in Bahrain, a few points worth noting come to the fore. First, there is the theory that unlimited access to the oil wealth in the Middle East by authorities gives the ruling class the capacity to easily suppress dissent. Though Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia don’t belong to the oil rich club of the Middle East, the modest oil access to such oil resources by authorities accords them the necessary muscle to clamp down anti regime rebellions. Smith says that there has been a school of thought in the Middle East that holds the view that monarchies have slightly more popular legitimacy that elected governments and straight out dictatorships (111). However, this theory has been discounted by the Bahrain protesters who have called for the overthrow of the ruling monarch.

Oil wealth and monarch leadership doesn’t seem to have helped Bahrain. Besides the above factors, there is the issue of Islamic fundamentalism that has played a hugely unacknowledged role in the protests in the Middle East. Bradley assets that different states have a hand in the Bahraini protests and influence peddling is sure to determine the outcome of the situation in Bahrain and its spilling effects especially in countries with a Sunni-Shiia political axis (83).

There is the role of the United States and the countries allied to it (Manhire 56). Somehow, US allies including Bahrain and Egypt have adopted a restrained approach in suppressing the demonstrations compared to anti-US nations such as Iran, Syria and Libya. It is important to note that the ties between the US and Bahrain go beyond economics to include military as the country hosts the US Navy’s fifth fleet.

It is important to note that all the above factors play a significant role in the effects and aftermath of the protests in Bahrain. Though the Bahrain protests are as a result of the domino effect of the Arab spring, gulf countries and other Middle East nations are nervously watching the outcome in Bahrain. Given its Sunni-Shiia political axis, an overt US and Arab nations role, the outcome in Bahrain will reflect the eventuality that befalls many of the nations in the region with similar political and social dynamics.

More importantly however is the assertion by some scholars that the protests in the Middle East especially Bahrain is a reaction to the class and societal positions of the masses in that community (Dabashi 10). Thus a larger perspective provides the base and platform for the events in Bahrain and the likely effects on the region with similar dynamics. The larger perspective also represents a school of thought that takes into account all the factors mentioned above.

In Bahrain, the root causes of the protests mirror those that are cited by Marxist theorists (Aloysius 23). First, there is a monopoly of power by the al-Khalifa family that traces its origins from Saudi Arabia. The Shiia majority especially have issues with the unelected Prime Minister Sheikh Khalfa who is also an uncle to the current King Hamad. The prime minister has been in power since 1971 and is thought to be the wealthiest member of the royal family. In the government, the cabinet is composed of four fifths of the royal family members with King Hamad wielding immense powers and can dismiss members of the cabinet besides proroguing parliament at will. Additionally, the King appoints most of the civil servants in the kingdom in a manner that many people agree is very dubious. In line with true capitalist greed, the royal family acquired $65 billion worth of prime real estate land that previously was state property (Miller 26).

Beside leadership failures the human rights situation of the kingdom has deteriorated considerably. King Hamad who took over power in 1999 dramatically improved the human rights situation though 2010 marked the decline of the gains that had been realized. Arbitrary arrests of non-violent government critics, torture, gagging of the internet and killing of protesters had angered the public who feel the excesses of the monarch are getting out of control.

Perhaps the most important of the factors in the Bahraini protests is the subjection to the Shiia majority to marginalization, discrimination and poverty. Bahrain is a relatively wealthy kingdom whose population is approximately 70% Shiia (Smith 42). However, the majority of government official are from the Sunni minority with majority of Shiia people living in poverty in rural areas. Additionally, there is discontent among Shiia community due to the government’s speedy grants of citizenships to Sunnis from outside the Kingdom. There have also been electoral malpractices with the most notable happening in 2008 when the government prevented Shiia party supporters from voting effectively denying them a much-needed majority in parliament.

In essence therefore, the protests are a culmination of perceived injustices among the majority Shiia and some Sunni people propagated by the ruling and wealth Sunni minority. It is the perfect recipe for protests and/or revolutions as advanced in Marx’s theory.

There is no doubt that there will be changes in the Bahraini community in the aftermath of the protests (Bradley 12). The effects of such changes as emphasized through this paper will echo beyond the borders of the small gulf kingdom. Precisely, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran will most likely feel the affects of the protests in Bahrain. Whether the ruling class in Bahrain will be overthrown or not, there is likely to be a high charged activism in the countries mentioned. It is important to note that the countries mentioned represent some of the hot spots of the region where US involvement is very pronounced.

There is a likelihood of increased Sunni-Shiia confrontation in various countries in the region especially those that are mentioned above. In case of a Sunni triumph in Bahrain, the most likely first causality of the aftermath will be Saudi Arabia. There is considerable resentment of the Saudi monarch by the Saudi Shiia population (Hiscock 77). Though relatively stable, an uprising by the Shiia section of the population in Saudi Arabia is a very likely scenario currently. Occurrence of Bahrain-style resistance in Saudi Arabia is almost a foregone conclusion in case the protests in Bahrain persist. Most analysts agree that this is the reason why Saudi Arabia is eager to help Bahrain suppress the protests militarily. Also, it is the reason why both Kingdoms are willing to enter to a hastily arranged political union with each other in order to preserve the Sunni dominance of the politics in the region.

The Sunni- Shiia duel will not only be limited to Saudi Arabia. Though Iraq has in place a fledgling democracy, it is not lost to observers that former ruler Saddam was a Sunni who had numerous run-ins with the Shiia population of the country. The political landscape in Iraq is now changed but continued protests in Bahrain with or without any meaningful success are sure to fuel confrontational politics in Iraq that may make the country’s already volatile situation spiral out of control.

Additionally, there is Iran which many analysts believe sympathizes with Shiia populations in the Middle East countries (Miller 90). Iran has influence ambitions in the region and fueling dissent against Sunni rulers provides it with the surest way to assert control to counter the US and Israel whom it perceives as enemies.

The Middle East is a diverse region with enormous resources and offers a unique market place and influence peddling platform. As such, various world powers have sought to assert their influence in the region. The US mainly, has military relationships with various countries in the region. What’s more, US military presence happens to be in countries where the Sunni-Shiia duel is playing out. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the two countries that stand to be most affected by the protests have very close military ties with the US ranging from arms buying to hosting of US military personnel (Gelyin 148). Additionally, Iraq is recovering from a grueling military campaign waged by the US military that sought to overthrow a Sunni ruler. Furthermore, experts believe eventually, a military confrontation between the US and Iran, a major influence peddler in the Middle East is inevitable.

Considering the above, a major effect therefore of the Bahrain protests will be far-reaching military implications in the gulf and the larger Middle East (Gelyin 67). There is likelihood that the US will evaluate its military strategy in the region especially considering such protests put its allies on the verge of political and social instability. A very likely scenario is the possibility of Shiia-dominated parliaments and governments that will seek limitation of the US military role or closure of US military facilities in Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Such a situation will impede cooperation of the gulf countries with the US in its operations in Afghanistan while frustrating US efforts to secure assured flow of energy resources from the Middle East.

Besides the political effects stemming from the Bahraini protests, there are other economic implications that are very likely should the situation continue (Hiscock 31). The descent to violence of Lebanon in the 1970’s enabled Bahrain to emerge as the leading financial center in the Middle East. By virtue of being Middle East’s financial hub, every country in the region is in one way or another connected to Bahrain. Prolonged protests or the fall of the Bahrain authority will likely send the entire region into a crisis that will further expose the region’s economies already feeling the pressure of a stubborn world economy.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the Bahrain protests significantly hold the key in determining the political, economic and military directions of the gulf countries and the larger Middle East. As mentioned earlier, the catalyst for these protests is the resentment of the majority Shiia people who feel marginalized by the ruling class. Unfortunately, the protests are heavily dotted with ethnic undertones that starkly differ from the protests in the rest of the region. Despite the ethnicity however, the common factor remains poverty and class struggles against perceived economic and social injustices. Considering the magnitude and determination of the protesters in Bahrain, Marxists consequences are very likely. Though drastic changes in the small kingdom is unlikely in the short-term, political, social and military changes in Bahrain occasioned by the protests will no doubt have a ripple effect throughout the region, especially in places where the Sunni-Shiia politics dominate.

Works Cited

Aloysius, Stefanu. Arab Spring, Chicago: Springer, 2011. Print.

Bradley, John. After the Arab Spring: How Islamists Hijacked The Middle East Revolts, New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Dabashi, Hamid. The Arab Spring: The End of Post-colonialism, London: Sage Publications, 2012. Print.

Gelyin, James. The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know, New York: Thomson Learning, 2012. Print.

Hiscock, Geoff. Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources, New York: Taylor & Francis, 2012. Print.

Manhire, Toby. Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution, and a New World Order, New York: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Miller, Frederic et al. 2011 Bahraini Protests. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.

Smith, Lydia. The Arab Spring: Revolutions and Unrest in the Arab World, New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. Print.

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